The Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples has called for the flag of Tino Rangatiratanga to be flown alongside the New Zealand flag from the Auckland Harbour Bridge on Waitangi Day. It is a request other Maori groups have been making for the past several years and the Herald has not previously supported it.
Though often referred to as the "Maori flag", the red and black banner with its striking white koru has had no formal designation as such. It has been the familiar backdrop to many a raucous demonstration of radical Maori aspirations, especially at Waitangi, and that association might mean it is never universally adopted by Maori, let alone embraced by the rest of the nation.
Then, of course, there is the issue that even if it were the agreed flag of Maori, should it be given the same prominence as the flag that is supposed to represent all New Zealanders? What would that symbolism be saying? Dr Sharples said, "It's a symbol of the new direction this Government is taking by inviting the Maori Party to be part of it."
Put that way, it is hard to see how the Prime Minister, when he returns from holiday, can refuse the request. John Key took a very important step when he invited the Maori Party to be part of his Government. It was a gesture he did not need to make; National won sufficient seats at the election to be able to govern with the Act Party, which opposes the flag request.
Having made the gesture, Mr Key needs to show it means something. He has appointed Dr Sharples his Minister of Maori Affairs. This is his minister's first request and it is clearly intended as a test of National's good faith. From the Maori Party's point of view, if National cannot agree to a proposal as simple and costless as flying their nominated flag for one day, their governing partnership is unlikely to amount to much.
In Mr Key's absence, his ministers have been treating the request cautiously. Transport Minister Steven Joyce, with responsibility for the Harbour Bridge, says he is content with the 2007 decision of Transit New Zealand to fly only the national flag. But that was a decision officials should never have had to make.
The Transport Agency, as Transit has become, probably now rues the day it put twin flagpoles on the elegant arch. For many years it gave one pole to the flag of other countries on their national day and repelled Maori requests with the explanation that only the flags of sovereign nations were acceptable. That excuse collapsed the day the Maori Party saw the European Union's flag up there, and the current policy resulted.
Questions of national symbolism are for politicians to resolve, not road managers. The previous Government should not have left this one to transport officials and nor should National. Its governing agreement with the Maori Party carries an obligation to consider proposals in good faith. That means seriously looking at the idea from the partner's point of view.
To Maori and many others, the sight of two distinct flags flying side-by-side on the anniversary of the Treaty would be a powerful expression of New Zealand's dual heritage, or as Dr Sharples put it, "a coming together ... a willingness by New Zealand to recognise the bicultural nature of our foundation".
National might regard it as no more than an expression of good faith in the governing partnership and it might find the public comfortable with that. Views invited by the Herald online have produced a more even balance than might have been expected. By late yesterday 159 had said no and 117 yes.
In these newly hopeful political circumstances, a flag acceptable to the wider Maori community would be an appropriate companion for the national ensign. Let it happen.